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Battle Royale: Julie vs. Laboratory Equipment. Tickets $25

Posted Apr 09 2009 7:16pm
I’ve heard it said before that nothing is foolproof to a talented fool. Today I learned that it is indeed a true statement, and I am that talented fool. There are good days in the lab, there are bad days in the lab, and there are days in the lab when I full expect the program director to come storming down the hallway, barge into the lab, wrestle the lab coat off of me while simultaneous screaming that I am a disgrace to science, and marching me right out of the research building. I should have realized that yesterday’s attack by the autoclave was only the preliminary round and there was more to come.
This morning, I arrived in lab early, around , so that I could start a few things before class and use the hour-long biochemistry class as an incubation period. I had all my bench work complete by , and all I had to do was put my four 1L flasks in the incubator shaker and then head to class, with plenty of time to spare. However….

#1: Julie versus Shaker Incubator
, Autoclave Room
All I had to do was lift the top off the shaker incubator, insert my 1L flasks, close the lid, set the temperature to 37C and the rpm to 225. It honestly doesn’t get much easier than this. The flasks are held in place by posts which are surrounded by coiled springs, but they’ve been looped over to hold smaller flasks, probably 500mL. Unwrapping the spring proves to be much more difficult than it looks, and quite the struggle results. I’m tugging and pulling and the spring is fighting back by pinching my fingers between the coils and my nitrile gloves kept getting caught and were literally shredding. Finally, I get one of the springs unlooped, put in a flask – and realize it is now too loose, and I have to struggle and fight again in order to double it up again to hold the flask tight enough. Suddenly I feel a sharp pain in my thumb, I glance down, but the glove is miraculously not torn on the thumb, so I figure I couldn’t have done too much damage, right? If I really caught my thumb in a coil, the glove would have ripped first… or so one would assume. So I continue on the struggle, finally get the flask in tight enough, and set to work on the other three. Eventually, they are all in, the lid is back on, the incubator is beeping at me and I finally figure out how to shut it up, I go back to the lab, grab my notebook to run to class since I’m late by this point, realize I’m still wearing my gloves, peel them off… and suddenly a puddle of blood starts to drip out of my glove. Apparently, half of my thumb nail ripped off in the process, and there was blood everywhere. And lucky me, I had to remove the flasks later that afternoon, add a few more contents in the lab, and then fight to get them back in the incubator again. At this point, I will be perfectly happy to never have to deal with the shaker incubator ever again.
Winner: I’m going to call this one a tie. The incubator got my nail and drew blood, but I was finally able to get my flasks in to proceed with my experiment.

Battle #2: Julie versus Spectrophotometer
, Freezer Room
Next idiot-proof procedure of the day: after changing the LB broth for the bacteria, take optical density (OD) readings every 15 minutes until the reading is between 0.6 and 0.8. This was more of a pain than any sort of a challenge – the research building has very long hallways with lots of turns, and the autoclave room with the shaker incubator and my flasks is at the absolute end of the west side of the building, and the freezer room is at the end of the east side, so basically, in the time it took me to go to the autoclave room, draw 1mL samples for my cuvettes, walk to the spectrophotometer, and take readings, the 15 minutes had passed and I had to rush back for new samples. But the whole process is very simple – calibrate machine for protein readings, set the wavelength, insert blank, insert samples – no problem. Three of my flasks reached the desired OD reading at the same time, so I scurried down the hallway to remove the flasks from the incubator to add the next reagent, and since the other flask was getting close, quickly went to take another OD reading. I returned, open the spectrophotometer, went to insert the blank – and realized the apparatus inside the spectrophotometer that holds the cuvettes was gone! In a matter of 10 minutes, somebody had come, unscrewed the cuvette holder, and walked off with it like a bandit, leaving me stranded. I rush down a floor to try their spectrophotometer, which had an ‘out of use’ sign on it. Thanks to my quick wit and creative thinking, I was finally able to duct-tape the cuvette in place, ghetto style, without covering any part through which the reading is taken, but of course, by this time, the reading was slightly over the desired 0.8. There’s always something to ruin my experiments.
Winner: My fabulous duct-taping skills did not happen soon enough and my timing was off. Therefore, the victor was the spectrophotometer… or the person who stole the cuvette holder (seriously, who does that?!)

#3: Julie versus Centrifuge
, tissue culture room
The battle to end all battles. At the end of a long, tiring, frustrating day which began 10 hours earlier when I walked into to lab, I reached the home stretch. Load up the contents of the 4 flasks into 700mL plastic tubes, insert them into the centrifuge, spin down for a half hour, discard supernatant, and stick in the -80 freezer overnight. Now, honestly, what could possibly be more simple than operating a centrifuge? It must be the most, well, foolproof of all laboratory equipment. And, as previously stated – I am that fool that can screw it up. The model was slightly different than what I had been using during my summer lab rotation, on which the inner lid was actually attached to the outer lid. I wasn’t aware that they were separate on this model, and the way the inner lid was hanging on the top, it actually looked like it was attached. I inserted my samples, started to shut the outer lid, and wham – the inner lid fell off and landed on top. Nothing seemed damaged, so I simply went to pull the inner lid out – but it wouldn’t budge. Amazingly, it fell perfectly in line, just upside-down, to how it should be screwed in, but somehow, it wedged its way in, and I couldn’t get it out. Not wanting to admit to my own stupidity, I first tracked down another first year PhD girl and asked her for help. When the two of us couldn’t get the lid out, I knew I was in trouble. Next stop: ask one of the lab techs for help, particularly since she is the one who has used the centrifuge in the past. She looked at it, furrowed her brow, and put in a good 10 minute wrestling match with the lid, and finally gave up. Thankfully with her help, we were able to squeeze out my sample bottles so my experiment wasn’t completely lost, but we definitely bent the wedged-in centrifuge lid in the process. At least this allowed me to transfer my samples into smaller centrifuge bottles and spin them down in a different centrifuge. However, even that had to have its flaws - apparently, one of the smaller centrifuge bottles had a small crack in it which nobody had noticed, and as I was walking upstairs with them, a small stream of bacterial culture started to leak right down my sleeve... ewwwww. I was about ready to go dunk myself in bleach and dive straight into the autoclave for sterlization! Later in the evening, an older graduate student, a post-doc, and a PI from another lab were involved in the fix-the-centrifuge process, with no progress whatsoever. Yes, today I single-handedly managed to break an idiot-proof $12,000 centrifuge. Awesome.
Winner: Obviously, the centrifuge. I was no match whatsoever.

At the end of the day, the overall champion is quite obvious. I just am not up to par with the cunning, sly, and downright nasty laboratory equipment of the medical center research building. Someone really should come take away my lab coat and my pipettes before I lose a finger to the luminometer or ignite myself and go up in flames courtesy of a bunsen burner... but when I do, don't worry, I'll be prepared to tell you the whole story so someone can get a chuckle out of my blatent stupidity.
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